Dogs? Iran clerics, legislators growl at the thought

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Dogs are “unclean” and should be banned from society. That is what 39 Iranian legislators have proposed to the country’s 290-member parliament, known as the Majlis.

Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported that the parliamentarians suggesting the ban on dogs and other pets deemed as “unclean” want the proposed statute to be part the country’s general Islamic law.

If the law passes, dog owners will be banned from taking their pets out into public spaces and into vehicles. First-time offenders will be fined five million riyals (approximately $478); they will be given 10 days to get rid of the dog. If they fail to do so, health authorities will be called in to take the dog away from its owner. It is unclear what would be done to the dog.

The health ministry has been asked to enforce the rules, as have city councils around the Islamic republic as well as the parliament’s culture committee, according to IRNA.

The 39 MPs say that other than canines being “unclean,” keeping dogs as pets goes against Iranian values. The practice, they said indicated the influence of Western culture.

The campaign against dogs isn’t new, however. In June 2010, Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi sent a message that the practice of keeping dogs as domestic pets must stop. He issued a fatwa (religious edict) stating that “Friendship with dogs is a blind imitation of the West.” The Grand Ayatollah added: “There are lots of people in the West who love their dogs more than their wives and children.” He did not elaborate on that statement.

He acknowledged, however, that the Quran does not explicitly prohibit contact with dogs. Rather, the Grand Ayatollah said, such forbidding of contact with dogs was in keeping with Islamic tradition. “We have lots of narrations in Islam that say dogs are unclean,” he said.

In October 2010, Hojatolislam Hassani, cleric and leader of the Friday prayer in the northwestern city of Orumiyeh, went a step further and called for the arrest of all dogs and their owners.

“I demand the judiciary arrest all dogs with long, medium or short legs—together with their long-legged owners," he said.

Dog ownership has been on the rise in recent years in Iran, a country of around 72.9 million people, especially among Iranians in the affluent neighborhoods of north Tehran.

Hard-line judiciary agents and police have intermittently fined owners and confiscated their pets from streets and parks. Guard dogs and sheep dogs are however considered acceptable. No standards have been apparently set for their cleanliness.

(Sara Ghasemilee of Al Arabiya can be reached via email at: [email protected])